The terms of this motion are self explanatory. I must say at the outset that I am absolutely flabbergasted and appalled at the Government's refusal to accept the motion and, in addition, at the tone and content of the countermotion. We are seeking justice, humanity and compassion for people who have suffered over many years due to circumstances entirely outside of their control. All we are getting in the countermotion is the same old cant, legalese and jargon to which we have already been treated.
The Minister will be aware that reparation has been made for the victims of abuse in residential institutions. I do not say it to belittle them in any way, but the abuse many of those victims suffered is less than the abuse we are talking about here tonight. However, the Government's attitude to people who were abused in primary schools by teachers who were members of religious orders is markedly different from their approach to the victims in residential institutions. The attitude of the Government to the people on whose behalf we are speaking tonight seems to be coldly adversarial, determinedly so. If the Government has learnt anything from the recent cervical cancer scandal, it will surely realise at this late stage, that that sort of attitude to helpless victims is repugnant to the majority of the Irish people.
I have deliberately couched this motion in very narrow terms to prevent the Government using the "floodgates" argument. We are talking only about victims where the perpetrators have been convicted before the courts of this country. Since 1973, which is 45 years ago, only 72 people have been convicted. The ratio of victims to people convicted is 2.5. If we multiply 2.5 by 72, that is 182. What we are seeking to do is to allow them to enter the present redress scheme which was set up in 2015 in the wake of the Louise O'Keeffe case. If one multiplies 182 by €84,000, the maximum figure is €15 million, and that depends on everybody making a claim and on everybody getting the maximum amount and not a penny less.
The fact of the matter is, as the Minister will be aware, Louise O'Keeffe, one of the survivors, fought a 15 year legal battle for justice. Her case was turned down by the High Court. She went to the Supreme Court where she was also turned away. An interesting thing happened on the day of the European Court of Human Rights decision in Louise O'Keeffe's case; a fulsome message of congratulations was sent by the Taoiseach, the head of Government, to Louise O'Keeffe, congratulating her on her victory. What is extraordinary about that is that the day after the Supreme Court decision, Louise O'Keeffe and all her fellow plaintiffs got a letter from the State, of which the Taoiseach is the head, threatening them that if they did not withdraw their cases forthwith they would be visited by action for costs that would literally take the roofs from over their heads. That was a naked, shameless threat from the person who then congratulated Louise O’Keeffe when undaunted she went on to the European Court of Human Rights and got a judgment to the effect that the systems in place in Irish primary schools were insufficient to protect children from that type of activity. However, even as the Government was compiling the fulsome congratulations it was planning how best to prevent people availing of the European Court of Human Rights judgment.
The Government set up a redress compensation scheme, allegedly, to allow the victims the right to access compensation without having to go through the convoluted casino of the Irish judicial system, but it put two insurmountable barriers in their way. The first one relates to a prior complaint. That has been rubbished by every legal scholar and commentator in this country and beyond. In any case, even if everybody else is wrong and the Government is correct and prior complaint is the kernel of the Louise O'Keeffe case, there is nothing in the Louise O'Keeffe judgment that forces the Government to confine itself to cases where there was a prior complaint.
Second, the Government insisted that people should have taken legal action within the period set out by the statute of limitations. That was despite the fact that every legal adviser in the country knew and advised those plaintiffs that there was no point in taking legal action because they had no case. If they could get over the hurdle of the need for a prior complaint, then they had to face the, arguably, larger hurdle, that they ignored the advice of their legal advisers and proceeded to take a case which they were told was a waste of time and money.
On 22 May my colleague raised this matter with the Taoiseach and asked him why those barriers were being put in the way of this particular group of victims. The Taoiseach's response was that compensation in redress schemes was made on the basis of evidence. Deputy Martin responded that what greater evidence did he need than people who were brought before the courts and convicted. He could have added that the majority, if not all, of those perpetrators admitted the offences. What greater evidence does one need than that? The Taoiseach's response to that was that in that case it would have to be considered. He stated, "If, as the Deputy said, there is no doubt that abuse has taken place in these cases, certainly that is something we can examine. I will take the matter up with the Minister for Education and Skills soon." I take it that the Taoiseach has taken up the matter with the Minister. If the countermotion is his response, that is a poor lookout for justice, humanity and fairness in this country.
Let us get away from the legal distinctions for a moment and talk about the victims. As the Minister knows, they are real people. John Allen was abused at the age of nine in the famous North Monastery primary school in Cork, as he cried for his mother. Many years later when the perpetrator of that abuse, the man who ruined his life was brought before the courts of this country, John Allen went into the witness box and pleaded with the judge not to send that individual to prison, and his plea was accepted. I hope for John's sake that Shakespeare was right when, to paraphrase him, he said the giving of mercy benefits those who give as well as those who take because John Allen and his fellow survivors have got damn all mercy from this State.
I have some knowledge of the life experience of those people. I will not invade their privacy by spelling out details here on the floor of the Dáil, but suffice it to say that any cursory examination as to what happened to those people in later life will show a lamentable litany of broken relationships, broken marriages, broken homes, broken dreams and broken lives. They were people who were robbed of much of the potential with which they were born through circumstances entirely outside their control. This was done as a result of the actions of teachers who were paid by the State in schools those people had to attend, because it was legally obligatory to do so, and the schools were managed by the State.
Some may ask whether this is about money. It is not. No amount of compensation can turn back the clock and undo the damage done to people's lives. The maximum compensation of €84,000 available from the redress board is scant and pitiable for the suffering endured by the people concerned. It is not, therefore, about money; rather, it is about the State making a tangible gesture as evidence of its good faith and an admission that a wrong was done by employees of the State while the people concerned were under its care and control. It would be evidence of its compassion and recognition in deed, as well as word.
Many members of the Government, including the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, recently fought a referendum campaign to abolish the eighth amendment on the basis of compassion. How can one be selective when it comes to compassion? How can one have compassion for one group of victims and none for another? Which group of victims is more deserving of compassion than the people concerned who often came from deprived backgrounds, were abused as children and have suffered as a consequence for the past 20 to 30 years? A Government of any persuasion or composition which denies the victims of convicted perpetrators access to the redress board does not deserve to call itself compassionate.
The sad thing is the suffering continues. In the words of Yeats, "Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart." The people concerned have become disillusioned, disaffected and embittered following years of evasion, half-truths, hiding behind legal niceties and fine legal distinctions, bullying and intimidation. Their suffering must stop immediately because it manifests in suicide, suicidal ideation, health or marriage breakdown and, in many cases, a descent into the darkness of depression and mental illness. On a day when Members have been told that corporation tax receipts have gone through the roof, for the paltry sum of a maximum of €15 million the Government could bring to an end the suffering of the people concerned who have suffered so much. I urge the Minister with all of the sincerity at my command to take the opportunity to do the right thing.